A carbohydrate is like the internet. It can either help or harm you — it just depends on how and when you consume it.
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“You want to find the right balance,” says registered dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD.
Patton explains why carbs shouldn’t be diet enemy number one and the best time of day to eat them.
Carbohydrates often get a bad rap. But they’re one of three essential macronutrients, along with fat and protein.
“Carbohydrates turn into glucose, or sugar, in your body. Your body converts that glucose into energy,” says Patton. “Carbs are your body’s main and preferred energy source.”
“Most foods and food groups contain carbohydrates, so you want to find the right balance,” says Patton. “If you’re an average, healthy person, eat some carbs with each of your meals throughout the day.”
But consuming carbs earlier in the day may be better if you:
To get the energy-fueling benefits, you need to consume the right kind of carbs. Patton says that eating sugary, processed foods can quickly spike your blood sugar. As a result, you may feel hungry just one to two hours later — and eat even more. The same can happen if you eat only carbs and don’t get enough protein and fat.
Intermittent fasting is eating and fasting during certain windows of time. If you follow this type of eating pattern, Patton says it’s OK to eat carbs throughout your entire window — even if your goal is weight loss or if you have diabetes or prediabetes. “But during that eight-hour window, try to control the total amount of carbs you’re eating,” she recommends.
Patton says following the plate method is an easy way to make sure you’re eating the right amount of carbohydrates. Start with a 9-inch plate. Fill half of it with vegetables, one quarter with protein and one quarter with carbs.
If you’re an athlete or physically active, dividing your plate into thirds may better fuel your day. But Patton recommends keeping macronutrients balanced at every meal. “Your body can only absorb so much protein at once. It processes fuel most efficiently in smaller, more frequent doses. So be consistent throughout the day: Eat three meals and two to three snacks.”
If your carb-eating habits leave something to be desired, Patton says these tips can get you on the path to a well-balanced diet: